By Sister Patricia Anne Baca
Is America too deeply rooted in racism, or is this another American excuse for inappropriate behavior?
As the events unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia, I sat watching the breaking news, feeling appalled and offended beyond my imagination. However, it isn’t just what is happening in Charlottesville that has me pondering what is happening in our local areas and across the United States.
I feel like we are unraveling at breakneck speed, and if we don’t stop and swing our moral compass, I am afraid we will not be able to recover. Why are we still operating out of a “fear” model? Why are people still killing each other? When will that curtain of bigotry and the treatment of others with less than human dignity fall? When is enough, enough?
On August 13, another Sister of Mercy and I went to see the documentary Whose Streets about the shooting and killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, Missouri. I had been living in Toledo, Ohio when the event took place. In a sense, I was very removed from “ground zero,” but I do remember thinking that this unnecessary police action could take place anywhere in the United States.
While I watched this documentary, many times I shook my head in disbelief as to the amount of unnecessary force used to compel compliance—not only against Michael Brown. Force was even used against those who were gathering for a peaceful prayer vigil hours and days after the unjustified shooting and killing.
All the documented video footage obtained for this documentary amazed me; I am disheartened by the law enforcement response to those who were in Ferguson. I am completely aware that there are outliers on any given spectrum; however, that does not make it right for the officers’ excessive use of force. The fact that the police arrived already in riot gear, with canine units, tanks, rubber bullets, chemical irritants (pepper spray, tear gas) and automatic machine guns escalated the fears of those who were gathered.
Before I became a Sister of Mercy I was a trained federal law enforcement officer with the Coast Guard. Our training centered on how to deescalate potentially lethal situations. One cannot justify shooting a person in the back who is walking away with his or her hands in the air. These are called “judgmental shoot—don’t shoot” situations.
As a result of seeing this film and pondering the recent Charlottesville events, many questions are once again surfacing for me. Do I feel superior to those who are of a different look or creed? Do I respond out of fear? What is it going to take to get me off the sidelines—to be one who sees an injustice and responds with genuine, honest and appropriate actions to my brothers and sisters in need?
What is it that I/we fear from those who are tired of living their lives inside, fearful of leaving their homes and being falsely accused of a crime? Fear breeds hate, and hate leads to the incidents we have witnessed in Charlottesville. At what point will we stop blaming our inappropriate actions on another? When will we take up our responsibility to be kind and hospitable no matter the color of our skin? What happened to treating others with dignity no matter their background? All these questions have been running around in my head for a long time. Isn’t it time we get out of our comfort zone and stretch ourselves more than we have ever done before?
Sisters of Mercy are committed to reflecting and engaging on personal and institutional racism and striving to embrace our oneness with all of creation. Am I/are we ready to accept this new awareness? Am I/are we ready to live differently because we see through a different lens? If not, what is still needed for us to stand up and be counted?